James Madison vs. Youngstown State FCS Football 2016 Final Breakdown

James Madison vs. Youngstown State, at Frisco, Texas, Saturday January 7th, 12:00
James Madison was the first team in six years to knock North Dakota State off its national champion’s pedestal.  The Dukes defense came up huge, holding the Bison to a season minimum of 132 yards rushing, which tells you the kind of job they did with a total still easily north of the century mark.  Offensively, running back Khalid Abdullah was the star, busting off several long runs.  Quarterback Bryan Schor was timely in his decision making and passing, only going 11-18 for 242 yards.  He didn’t hit any receiver more than twice, but did find seven different players, including three for touchdowns. 
The Dukes jumped out to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Bison rebounded, scoring a touchdown of their own just before the half.  It looked like another game where the Bison were going to fall behind early, only to rage back and dominate the rest of the way.  And it definitely appeared that way when the Bison tied it up at 17-17 in the third quarter.  All the momentum was on their side.  However, the Dukes defense was able to reapply their grips on the Bison leash.  A horribly timed off-sides call enabled the Dukes placekicker, Tyler Gray, to attempt and nail a season-long 45 yard field goal.  Even with almost 12 minutes remaining, it seemed to deflate the Bison.  A tack-on touchdown with seven minutes left made the final score and the rest, as they say, is history.
There was a lot of concern for the Youngstown State Penguins heading into Cheyney, Washington.  Sure, the Eagles were waiting.  But if that weren’t bad enough, numerous Penguins players were suspended before the game.  One very important piece was running Martin Ruiz.  Tevin McCaster came to save the day, going for 154 yards and three touchdowns.  He was even more crucial in the final quarter, going for over 70 yards.  Quarterback Hunter Wells completed 16 of 24 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns, himself, but more importantly, no interceptions.  The defense, who lost their two starting safeties, figured to be shredded by EWU’s stud quarterback, Gage Gubrud. And they were, to a degree.  Wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne, in particular, had huge days.  However, the Penguins were able to pick off the star Eagles quarterback twice.
The Penguins trailed 31-20, going into the final quarter.  But this was the time that Wells and McCaster came up biggest.  Wells threw a touchdown pass to wide out Alvin Bailey with just over 12 minutes to go, then McCaster finished off another drive with a 12 yard run at 6:30, to take a 34-31 lead.  The Eagles were not deterred and responded quickly (just over two minutes) to retake the lead, 38-34.  Many road teams would have folded at this point, but Wells lead a game-winning drive, hitting Kevin Rader on a five yard pass with one second remaining.  Interestingly, the Penguins elected to not kick the extra point.  Taking the victory formation, to avoid the Eagles chance to take a fumble, interception or blocked kick back for a “two point touchback.”
This championship game is a really tough one to figure.  With multiple players gone from Youngstown State’s starting line-up, you figure, James Madison head coach Mike Houston will be chomping at the bit trying to figure out ways for his offense to exploit it.  That’s not to say their defense isn’t going to have to come up large either, it’s a championship game - that goes without saying.  On the other hand, Youngstown State has been waiting a long time to get back to the promised land.  And if anybody has ever seen Penguins head coach Bo Pelini, they know his fiery demeanor with have his team focused and pumped like an over-inflated bike tire.  The biggest element that has to be weighed is time.  Both of these teams have been grinding non-stop, with only a single bye week (two in JMU’s case) for the last four months.  Now, all of a sudden, there’s a three week break before the showdown in Frisco, Texas.  Which team will work out the kinks and be ready to peak that week?  James Madison has probably been the better team overall most of this season, but Youngstown State might be playing its best ball of the season right now.  It’s really six of one, half a dozen of the other.  The one thing we do know, there’ll be a new champion for the first time in six years.  But is it going to a new conference?
Projected Score: Youngstown State 38, James Madison 35